Good news for the 60 percent of Americans who say they plan to grill over the Memorial Day weekend: that good old American hamburger may not be as expensive as it was last month. Meat prices — which rose 4.5 percent last month, according to the Labor Department — are headed down.
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The spike in meat prices came as overall food prices rose 2.6 percent, but now the U.S. Department of Agriculture says wholesale beef prices fell 15 percent from May 15 to May 20 — the sharpest fall in nine years.
Why such a fast turnaround? You can thank industry workers, who have eased labor shortages caused by the novel coronavirus. Last month, overall food prices headed higher as production facility workers fell ill from COVID-19, reducing output. U.S. slaughterhouses, for example, were operating at 81 percent of capacity, while pork processing plants operated at 85 percent of capacity. Now, the only major headwind faced by the industry is lower-than-usual demand.
Matt Masiero, a founder of Guido’s Fresh Market in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, says that while customers are enthusiastic about the holiday weekend, he limits the number of people in the store at any given time to comply with state requirements for social distancing.
“We make sure that people are all wearing masks … [Our employees are] wearing these things eight or 10 hours a day. At some point, I’ve got to go outside, take it off, take a deep breath,” he tells FOX Business. “We ensure that people are 6 feet apart … I have to remind people, ‘stay 6 feet apart at least—remember your social distancing.’”
To be sure, Americans are expected to celebrate the holiday with some barbecue favorites. But it’s yet to be seen whether meat will be consumed at the same rate as a more routine Memorial Day weekend.
According to WalletHub data from 2019, Americans typically spend $1.5 billion on meat and seafood in preparation for the long weekend. Amid the pandemic, one of this year’s favorite foods is likely to be a repeat of years past: hot dogs. Some 818 hots dogs are consumed every second in the U.S. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, or a total of 7 billion.